I get the same look when I tell strangers that I bowl collegiately — a cocked eyebrow and a face full of disbelief.
And then they start to explain why they’re so surprised.
Normally, it starts with trivial comments like “anyone can bowl.” Or “all that you do is throw a ball at pins; it’s not even hard.” It doesn’t take long before they harshly conclude that “bowling isn’t a sport.”
Having played soccer, basketball and softball growing up, I can definitely say that bowling is the hardest sport I’ve ever played. It is so much more than just throwing a ball at pins.
First and foremost, you can’t see the one thing that’s going to influence the game the most—the shot-glass worth of oil spread across the lane.
More oil in one spot can cause a ball to slide, not hooking at all. But less oil in one spot can cause a ball to find friction and hook. You may think that’s simple enough, right?
Not so fast. If you were looking at the oil on a lane as a topographical map, a difficult pattern would be a similar landscape to a craggy steppe, and an easy pattern would resemble a gentle hill. The only way to tell the difference is to watch how your ball moves.
To make things worse, this invisible opponent changes with every throw of the ball. Oil can be carried farther down-lane by your ball, pushed inside, outside or even burned up entirely. No two lanes are going to play the same way, even if they were originally the same pattern. Paying attention to these transitions and minor differences is key to high scores.
The next difficult thing about bowling is ball selection. You may think that all bowling balls are the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
If you want to move past bumpers and glow bowling, then you must abandon the desire to choose your ball based on appearance. Gone are the days of six-pound neon colored balls that glow under black lights.
Instead, say hello to differences in ball materials, core materials, core shapes, coverstocks and differentials.
Say hello to heavier weights and personalized drilling. Say hello to having multiple balls that all do different things. Also say goodbye to your paycheck because all bowling balls run anywhere from $100 to $250 each — not including that customized drilling.
Over the course of a tournament, you will be faced with moments when you could make a switch in balls and drastically change the game. However, there are no field guides to when to make these transitions. Instead, you have to rely on watching ball movement and knowing how the rest of your equipment might compare.
But even with all that, the most difficult part of bowling is entirely in your head.
You have to trust yourself to consistently make well-executed shots. Missing your target by an inch can lead to a nasty split or a dizzying washout. A deceleration in arm speed can lead to a completely different ball reaction. Not bending your knee at the line can lead to an opposite reaction. The list goes on.
You have to fight past bad breaks and errors in judgment and move on to the next frame. You may throw what you think is a perfect ball, but leave a 9 pin. Or worse yet, a pocket 7-10 split. It happens. But the game goes on.
You have to take your time to analyze your shots but at the same time avoid overthinking your way into a mistake. A missed spare one frame can lead to a string of missed spares if you over-adjust. A missed lane adjustment can leave you tens of pins behind the competition.
Now imagine combining all of those things while spending 12 hours straight on your feet with no breaks for meals — only the occasional snack here and there. Then imagine having to repeat that process over again the next day with little sleep. Complete physical and mental exhaustion are the result, yet you must push forward.
In times like those I wish it were as simple as just throwing a ball at some pins.
If you don’t want to consider bowling a sport, that’s fine. Keep your neon balls and rented shoes. I’ll continue to think that it is a sport, even without your approval.
Savannah Joslin is a fourth-year communication student with a focus on public relations.